Fifty years ago, Judge Marvin E. Frankel published a slim volume that has had an outsized and enduring impact on the criminal justice system in the United States and around the globe. In Criminal Sentences: Law without Order, Frankel captured the public’s imagination and the legal establishment’s attention in a way that is scarcely comprehensible in today’s world full of copious (but typically unheeded) criminal justice scholarship and policy advocacy. Judge Frankel’s work serves as a kind of a sentencing Rorschach Test for those involved in sentencing discussions and debates past and present. Because the book is so rich, and because the text is both a reflection of its times and still timeless, people can—and do—see lots of different things in Criminal Sentences: Law without Order. This essay, stemming from an April 2023 conference commemorating the book’s golden anniversary, explores the role that Frankel and his book had in shaping modern sentencing discourse and what lessons they offer for the future.

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